Women leaders are better at handling the pandemic, The New York Times said. And for the longest time, we have focused on the narratives about strong, independent women. However, empowering as it may be to some or many of us, this narrative is just exclusive. The truth is, what is empowering to the women in Hollywood may not be empowering to the women in Ethiopia. With the aforementioned fact, I have been arguing for the rethinking of what women empowerment is all about. When speaking of this, we have to recognize that women’s oppression is intersectional. With this, we ought to forward a more inclusive narrative wherein women who are not in politics, or in the movies, or in magazine covers, can stand up and say that they are the women that they are and that they occupy a space that nobody else will.
As a woman myself who have spent years of reading and listening to the stories of women from different walks of life, I am humbled by the tremendous strength I have seen. We can all empower ourselves in our own way. Here are six things I have learned from those years of chasing stories:
1. Resist materialism
One of the most oppressive forces that cage women are the uncountable objects that the market offers us. Whitening products. Luxury bags. Tons of clothes. And so on. These things are made primarily for profit. They are not produced for women to feel better about themselves, or to help you present yourself as someone powerful, or to simply just make you happy. They aren’t. They are produced by the underpaid women in the factories of Bangladesh and China so some people could trick us into thinking that we have a lot of choices. In reality, all our choices in the market have been predetermined and behind the ease of consumption are the struggling laborers who can’t even clothe their children. Hence, we have to resist the profit-driven flow. Support start-ups. Avoid hoarding. Engage in mindful sharing of resources. And don’t ever equate yourself to your possessions.
2. Speak out
Whoever you are, you have a voice. Remember that. Use that voice to encourage others and to point out what needs to be pointed out. Whatever resource you have now can be used either to uplift others or to make them feel inferior. The goal in speaking out is to surface the voice of those who haven’t been heard. And these include women who are not fighting against climate change but are segregating their wastes at home. These include single mothers who are working to the bone so they could feed their children. These include victims of sexual harassment who are blamed for not wearing proper attire. You see, the idea is our struggles are interrelated and the silenced need sisters to encourage them.
3. Contemplate and think
Fellow women, please take the time to sit, to sip your coffee, and think. Think about what’s worth pursuing. And this is the best thing I have learned from Toni Morrison: if you want to fly, you have to let go of the things that weigh you down. Think about that.
4. Admit your limitations
I feel weak. And I feel small. And no matter how much I wish to be strong every day, I just can’t. There are times when I badly want to ask people to take care of me because I can’t do it to myself. If I could, I would even tell someone to live my life for me even just for a day. And when we say these things, there should be no shame in it. We all have our thresholds and breaking points and they don’t make us any less of the women that we are.
The world is structured in such a way that people are conditioned to think that their worth comes from their level of productivity. This is where it stems from, the “basura ako” litany. Because of this, it is only right to say that one way to empower ourselves in a system that stimulates our obsession to hustle is to rest. And to do it well. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not the work that we do. We are not machines.
6. Love beyond yourself
As much as I’d like to edify self-love as a key to developing harmonious relationships with others, I have seen that this self-love has been distorted. It is now anchored in consumerism and narcissism. What we can do now is to go back to what love really is – loving others as we love ourselves. It’s not loving ourselves before we love others. Or loving others before we love ourselves. The emphasis is on the simultaneous act of loving. And most often than not, when we love, we will find differences, annoying traits, impatience, wounds, and deep scars in other people. We ought to love them still. Love not just your children or your family or the people who benefit you. Love the cashier in the supermarket, the Grab driver who made sure you’re safe, the security guard of your building, and the farmers that feed you.
Those are just few things that women can do to empower themselves. Girl, you may not be in the movies and you may not receive awards for whatever sacrifice you are making, but please know that you are the woman that you are and nobody else can occupy your space.